Looking for advice from senior PM / VP / CPO,

I’m a Product manager and I would like to signal to our leadership team that I want to grow into the Head of product / CPO role in the next 3-5 years. What did you do to grow yourself and your careers at this point to make it to the next level?

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I recommend you meet with your manager and the Head of Product for your company to express your interest in the role. If they don't have a succession plan, then they may be keenly interested. If they have a succession plan, then you should discuss with the Head of Product who will replace him or her if they are suddenly no longer available to the company. Review the qualifications of the role with the current Head of Product and your manager. You should be able to develop a Career Map and a Professional Development Plan that clearly outlines the responsibilities and skills you must demonstrate for the company to consider you as a viable candidate. First and foremost, you must be proficient in all the fundamental aspects of classic product management (see Pragmatic Institute training for product management fundamentals that covers strategic, technical, and product marketing fundamentals); you must be able to articulate the current software development process and its current gaps in your organization; you must accept responsibilities where you are building and refining processes, and where you are directly managing learning opportunities for the entire product management team; you must sharpen your leadership skills (how to lead by example, how to be a role model, how to coach, how to mentor, how to promote, how to hire, and how and when to fire). You must develop the financial skill set to develop and support a P&L for the product lines and understand how the company's financials are tracked and managed because you must understand the ROI on the investment in the product team and the required revenue to maintain the target margin. If you can pull this off in 5 years as a PM today, then you would be a unicorn. Most people need 10+ years to be accepted for the CPO or Head of Product role.

likehelpful

It’s a multi-part answer but from what I’ve seen it’s 90% hard work and 10% luck, but the luck side is the hardest part. Before diving in, make sure you’re realistic with your goal, see the folks in the role and figure out how they got there, how long it took, and the qualifications.

In general, build your network like it’s your job and deliver highly visible and high roi products. Make sure you don’t let your core deliverables slip, provide great reporting/dashboards, keep up with tech trends, and take on stretch assignments outside your main product (all at once). Also really get to know your domain, competitive insights, sales, and have great client and presentation skills

The hardest jump will be to your first people leader role and you’ll have to shift your mindset and deliverables from individual contributor to management. I recommend the book the first 90 days.

If you’re a product manager and at a mid to large org and want to move to vp/cpo in that org you need to be realistic with your timelines (assume 15 years+ not 3-5).

If you’re willing to take more risks or at a smaller organization you can move faster but for your goal 3-5 years still seems like a stretch to me. The approach might be deliver a highly visible/successful product and leverage that for a promotion, but the key is that there has to be success to build on and it has to be impactful to the business.

Lastly option from what I’ve seen is start your own thing where you are cpo/cto/ceo and get acquired (or even better it grows into its own business and you’re already where you want to be). Highest risk but fastest possible reward.

To move fastest you likely have to job hop quite a bit. Deliver high quality/high impact over 2 years then move to another org with an increase in title/responsibilities. If you jump too often, it can actually hurt you in the hiring process because companies look for longer term commitment so balancing those two things is an art. Pm -> sr/lead -> director -> sr director -> vp (some steps could be optional). It’s unlikely you’ll get a management job at a new org without previous management experience so you’ll need to find an org that will help you move to people leader.

It’s not comprehensive but wanted to share my viewpoint on how you can achieve your goal in a realistic way from what I’ve seen.

likehelpful

Thanks for taking the time to write this up. Lots to think through here.

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